Internet penetration may be laggardly in India, but – as the Reliance Communication TVC points out – mobile telephony has reached places in our country where even the basic amenities of modern life have not yet arrived.
The Indian mobile user has already grown accustomed to being interrupted during any time of day by all manner of consumer promos by or through their service providers. In the West, B2B decision makers have gone further, already using social networking via the mobile platform for more targeted business communication. As we pick up on this new application of a ready marketing tool, let’s learn from their experience and not reinvent the wheel.
The promise of mobile social networking in the Indian B2B space is plain enough. As the social infrastructure strains to keep pace with the opportunities and threats unleashed by globalisation, it is the B2B segment that is first coming under increasing competitive pressure.
The need for prompt access to actionable information grows daily more acute. The smart B2B marketer, visibly the most frequent of all flyers, can expect to be reached while on the move with more business SMS than ever before.
But as experience in the West is showing up, having a well-planned strategy is critical: “carpet-bombing” your network of business contacts without thought to the relevance of each message to each recipient, could break instead of build business links.
The mobile as a marketing communications tool (that is, minus add-ons like camera, FM and MP3 access) is first of all a person-to-person medium. Not everyone who participates in a particular mobile social network is a viable target for every message. So, their thirst for prompt access through the mobile social network is all too easy to abuse. Those at the receiving end of what is effectively spam SMS – whether potential customers or channel partners – are likely to be less than forgiving in the B2B space, unlike shoppers in the B2C.
They will welcome information or queries about new developments, opportunities, potential customers, contacts, market channels. Not corporate gossip. Not jokes. Not games. Not jingles and ads. B2B mobile social networks are about useful knowledge and meaningful dialogue.
The viral mode, which gives you word-of-mouth access to likeminded bloggers and e-mail users, can also be used to good effect. And that again points to the need for an integrated campaign to encourage user-generated communication in support of your brand.
This is what makes the mobile social network both more effective and more difficult (for both B2B and B2C applications).
First, because the mobile cannot work alone. It can reach the targeted buyer as nothing else can: it’s always on his or her person. It can deliver a “come on” quite effectively. Most of these networks and portals are accessible to the more advanced phone models, even deliver a short e-mail message. But the technology has its limits in terms of memory and download speed.
So, it needs to be integrated with other communication, online and offline. In the B2B domain, these could be trade and road shows, print or other advertising, blogs that professionals can access and contribute to, online video demos, audio on CDs or FM, etc.
Secondly, the content needs to be very subtly targeted and composed to draw out the targeted buyers to participate, express opinions – both favourable and unfavourable – to get best value. That’s the beauty and utility of a social networking site. Properly mounted, it will project the ambiance of a neutral environment in which satisfied users offer what amounts to unsolicited testimonials, while complaints yield useful feedback: product or service features, pricing, quality of customer support, comparisons with competitors, or responses to brand communication.
It can generate useful suggestions that could lead to improvements and innovations, extend a product’s life-cycle and build brand equity or, alternatively, enable the marketer to withdraw a product in good time. In other words, the on-site dialogue must attract potential and actual users as meaningful and likely to result in some real benefit to them.
When social networking sites fail, it is almost always because the marketer is either not clear about his objectives in launching the site, or makes too blatant an effort to “sell”, or defends his offering or his policies, making excuses, or hiding behind legalese, in a way perceived as denying the reality of dissatisfied customer experiences. In short, losing credibility.
That, of course, is the worst that can happen. Customers may forgive product or service lapses so long as the marketer comes through as sincere, willing to own up to them, and ready to take corrective action. Once lost, regaining credibility is a Himalayan climb. A non-transparent marketer is better off with no social networking site whatever, especially in the B2B space.